Voting precincts may be combined

Published 4:34 pm Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Decatur County’s 14 voting precincts may be combined to make them more accessible and help save money, so some county voters may have to go somewhere different to vote in future elections.

On Jan. 15, the Board of Elections and Voter Registration voted unanimously to seek the precincts’ consolidation, although which voting places would remain open and which would be closed has not yet been determined. The board plans to hold public hearings on the issue to allow for citizen comment.

About half of the 14 precincts, where voters go to cast ballots in person on election days, cannot be fixed to meet the standards of the federal law known as the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to Board Chairman Ray Chambers. The ADA standards require state and local governments to relocate programs or otherwise provide disabled persons access to programs in inaccessible older buildings.

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“The only options we have are to close them, consolidate them or spend a lot of money fixing them up,” Chambers said.

Some of the smaller precincts do not attract enough voters on election days to justify the cost required to keep them open and place voting machines and election staff there, board members said.

Most of the buildings whose primary purpose is for voting costs the board, a division of county government, thousands of dollars per year to maintain because of utility bills, according to Chief of Elections Doris White.

Chambers said that in the past, he believed closing or consolidating precincts could present a hardship to voters living in remote, rural areas. However, the recent institution of advance voting and absentee voting 45 days before an election now provided ample opportunity for people to vote at a convenient time, he said.

During the next several months, the Board of Elections and Voter Registration will be studying voter-related data and developing a plan for how the precincts could be consolidated. The outcome could vary from leaving a smaller number of existing precincts open to merging some of them into entirely new precincts.